Big old gum trees

24 March 2013
Perth, Western Australia

To walk to the bakery
I put on my fedora.
I hate that it covers
my ash-blonde hair
but it shades my sensitive
English skin.

I go past the graffiti
and through the park to the bridge.
On my left below a railing
the river glints.
On my right behind a barrier
cars overtake me, howling.

I’m enjoying the smooth
motion of my legs,
the air coming in regularly
behind my breasts,
my Doc Martens
pushing back the asphalt.

A man my age approaches
on a bike, breathing hard,
cheeks pink. He smiles at me.
I meet his eyes,
grin back, walk
a little taller.

I stroll on, humming
in the sun, considering
the bridge. Beneath
the asphalt and metal
armour, it’s made
of big old gum trees.

A chainsaw shout yanks my head to the right!
Passenger window down, a Holden blasts by,
Australian flags whacking the air.

Dickheads.
I shrug, poke
out my tongue.
They’re gone before I can get
my middle finger
up.

This again.
Just some young dude
trying to amuse
his Holden-polishing mate
by making a random stranger
jump.

Then I realise
what he said.

That wasn’t OI! or HEY! —
that was RAPE!

Wasn’t it?

I try to shake off
the roar and punch of those consonants,
but my brain has it
on tape.

How strange.
The boys start picking on me
now? I mean, don’t I look
like someone’s eccentric aunt?
Boots, mannish hat,
legs veiled
in long
trousers…

Suddenly it doesn’t seem such a joke.
I’m a long way from Mumbai,
but the dudes saw me only from the back
and between the hat and boots I’m wearing
a long tunic with an embroidered hem
over the baggy drapes
of green
Indian
kameez.

(First published in Uneven Floor)

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